Lab Matters Summer 2020 | Page 33

COMMUNICATIONS Exciting and Daunting: COVID-19 Brings APHL and Members Into New Territory by Michelle Forman, manager, Media As COVID-19 entered mainstream consciousness in the US, journalists from around the world began turning to APHL for information and insights like never before. Late February brought a flood of media inquiries that was as exciting as it was overwhelming. APHL’s objective has always been to bring public health laboratory work out from the shadows and into the spotlight in an effort to boost appreciation for these critical institutions. But when there is an outbreak or health threat, consumers want to know how to avoid getting sick and what to do if they get sick— information about detection or testing is seldom of interest. With COVID-19, this is the first time where testing has been and remains central to the global news story. Each year, depending on whether there is a major public health emergency, APHL would receive approximately 50 inquiries from journalists. In 2019, news articles mentioning APHL reached approximately 834 million people. That included close work with high-profile Washington Post journalists reporting on the EVALI response. With every mention of APHL and its members, more and more people were learning about public health laboratory work. But when a novel coronavirus began to spread in January and February, the media interest in APHL and its members grew at an unprecedented rate. By the end of February 2020, APHL could barely keep up with the barrage of reporter inquiries coming in from around the world. The annual average of 50 inquiries was quickly shattered. From January 1 to July 1, 2020, news articles mentioning APHL reached about 25 billion people. This kind of visibility was literally unfathomable seven months prior. From January 1 to July 1, 2020, news articles mentioning APHL reached about 25 billion people. This kind of visibility was literally unfathomable seven months prior. During the pandemic, APHL has worked with reporters at local newspapers, podcasts, scientific trade publications, major national news outlets and massive global news sources. Reporters continue to not only inquire about the public health laboratory role in the COVID-19 response, but also to ask general laboratory operations and testing questions. APHL staff and members are providing testing updates and serving as industry thought leaders. Many reporters have noted that they continue to reach out because they know APHL will provide answers and information, respond to every reporter, speak clearly on highly complex topics, answer candidly and honestly and, perhaps most notably, facilitate connections with members. Public health laboratories are now part of the American lexicon because of this media coverage. People who had never previously heard of or even considered the existence of public health laboratories now know that they exist and are vital players in this response. Laboratory scientists are being celebrated as heroes much like their healthcare counterparts. APHL now has new relationships with hundreds of reporters who had never otherwise considered the importance of public health laboratory testing to protect the public’s health during or outside of a pandemic. And these relationships will continue to be fostered as APHL continues to support their reporting, strongly championing the role of the public health laboratory. • PublicHealthLabs @APHL Summer 2020 LAB MATTERS 31